Jun 22, 2011

Arab Revolutions: Green Spring - Bloody Summer

The Spring Revolutions in the Arab word that started in December 2010 produced three major trends. The first one was reflected in the success of the removal of both the Tunisian and Egyptian dictatorships. The collapse of both corrupt regimes took less than a few weeks. The second trend is reflected in the continuous protesting by the people to remove the ruling regimes in Yemen, Libya and Syria. The Libyan situation turned into a civil war between the revolutionary forces and Gadhafi’s army. The unfortunate consequence of the three authoritarian regimes is that the death toll has exceeded expectations and so far run into the tens of thousands. Furthermore, tens of thousands have fled the states into neighboring countries to escape from the ruthless acts of the ruling regimes.

The conflict in the three states, which has been going on for more than 3 months, will continue until the removal of the corrupt leadership of Yemen, Libya and Syria.

The third trend of protesting that has been taking place is reflected in Jordan and Morocco, where the protestors’ movements have been relatively peaceful ones and casualties have also been minimal.

Both royal regimes have been acting in a wiser manner in their slow responses to the demands of the protestors. The protestors in both countries did not call for the removal of the kings, but have been asking for a constitutional monarchy to limit the authority of the kings. Also, the protestors in both states have been demanding constitutional reforms and the free election of parliament members.

In both states, the kings responded in positive manners, reflecting willingness to initiate some reforms. In Morocco, King Muhammad VI has supported constitutional reforms. He stated that a new constitution will be presented to the public to be voted on in early July. The new constitution will provide for a free parliamentary election and the winning party will have the power to appoint a prime minister. However, the king still has to approve the Minister of Interior. Also, the proposed constitution continues to state that the king is the commander of the armed forces and the head of the religious authority.

Members of the February 20 have already rejected the proposed reforms and will continue their protest for more real political reforms. They want truly democratic reforms and the separation of powers. Morocco has been facing increasing poverty and a high rate of unemployment, especially among young people. Also, an ethnic conflict has been going on with the Berber population, who constitute more than 50% of the population of Morocco. They have been demanding that their language, the “Amazig”, be an official language like the Arabic language.

In the proposed new constitution, the Amazig language will be recognized as a second official language. Nevertheless, the constitutional referendum in July will reflect the will of the Moroccan people. This is still not the end of the conflict.

In Jordan, King Abdullah II responded to the protestors’ demands by creating a 52-member committee to start a national dialogue in Jordan to draft new electoral laws for the elections of members of parliament, where the winning party will have the responsibility to choose the prime minister. The prime minister will be held accountable to the parliament and not the king. In the new proposed law, the king relinquished his authority to appoint or to order the prime minister to resign. The king also asked the leaders of the 33 political parties in Jordan to merge and create three major political blocks that will make it easier for the winner in parliament to appoint the prime minister, who will be responsible for forming his new cabinet.

King Abdullah the II proposed political reforms shows a willingness to share power with the proposed winners in the parliament, reflecting accommodations to the protestors’ demands. How soon this will be implemented is still unclear. Nevertheless, the king’s authority remains and it is not clear if he still has the power to dissolve parliament.

The interesting observation in both kingdoms in Morocco and Jordan is that King Muhammad VI and King Abdullah II showed some flexibility in their responses to the protestors’ demands, in order to avoid the bloodbath similar to the ones that have been going on in Libya, Yemen and Syria.

Nevertheless, the reactions of the public to the proposed constitutional reforms in both Morocco and Jordan will be reflected in the result of the referendum. The situation in Saudi Arabia looks totally different from the ones in Jordan and Morocco.

The Saudi royal family is living in the past and pretending that the changes that have been taking place worldwide are irrelevant to their kingdom. Even the events that have been taking place since December 2010 did not signify to them that the Arab population is thirsty for democracy and freedom and wants to have the right to run their own lives. The drastic changes that have been taking place in the Arab world by rebelling against authoritarian regimes are a reality that the citizens will continue to fight to achieve.

The tragedy in Saudi Arabia is that the ruling political elites are too old to rule and they are still living in the past. To them, stability is the number one issue. For this reason, King Abdullah, who is 86 years old, has approved a large budget where more than $130 billion in additional money will be designated to special projects such as monthly salaries for the unemployed until they find a job. It has been reported that the rate of unemployment in Saudi Arabia exceeds 15%. Also, the construction of new housing projects to accommodate the poor is another special project, as well as an increase in government workers salaries and the creation of more jobs for the unemployed. These are some of the reforms that King Abdullah has announced recently to appease the young people who have been trying to start protests but have failed so far because security forces have arrested their leadership. King Abdullah’s new policy is an attempt to avoid people’s rebellions similar to what has been happening in the rest of the Arab world. For how long such a policy will be effective is to be seen. The critical point that the Saudi regime has failed to see so far is that freedom of expression and freedom to elect the political leadership is the norm of life worldwide that the Saudis are deprived of. I would say that it is a matter of time before the Saudi regime will collapse and the young people will achieve their freedom.

Jun 18, 2011

Appropriation of African Lands by Foreign Governments

During the previous few years, a new and important trend began to take place in the African continent. Foreign governments and private agricultural and food producing companies began to buy and/or lease agricultural land for the purpose of food production. Nearly all of the countries involved are not self-sufficient in food production. The countries that have been active in the African continent include South Korea, who bought 1.7 million hectares in Sudan for wheat cultivations. Saudi Arabian companies have leased 25,000 hectares in Ethiopia to cultivate rice. The Indian government has leased hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural land for cultivation of corn and rice. China also acquired large tracks of land in Zambia and the Congo to use the cultivated products to produce biofuel. There are other countries that are also involved in African food and agricultural cultivation to ensure their future food needs.

The American-Oakland Research Center in California reported that the buying and/or leasing agricultural lands for cultivation in Africa began to create a serious problem for native African farmers. Furthermore, the report revealed that foreign governmental and private investors have already acquired more than 60 million hectare since 1999. In addition, foreign governments and private investors also secured extra privileges and guarantees from the African governments of water resources and free taxation. The report also revealed that millions of dollars from such agreements ended up in the pockets of government officials. (www.ahram.org, 6/11/2011).

It is of interest to notice that the land that is suitable for cultivation and has been the target is located around the Nile River basin countries, as well as Sudan and Ethiopia. The various land purchases that will be used to cultivate agricultural products require water for irrigation. The water supply at the present is not sufficient enough, especially for Egypt, which depends totally on the Nile River for its existence. According to the 1959 water agreement between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, the latter should receive 75% of the Blue Nile Water and Sudan 25%.

Even this portion of water is not enough for Egypt, who imports nearly half of its wheat needs annually. During the past ten years, Egypt and the Nile River basin countries have been discussing the old agreements of water sharing and so far no agreements have been reached.

The sale of more agricultural land to foreign governments will complicate the matter even further, especially for Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. The situation should also be viewed in light of the population growth in the three states. At the present, Egypt’s population is around 88 million. Sudan’s population is around 45 million and Ethiopia’s population is 85 million, which adds to a total population of 218 million. At the present rate of growth, the three states’ total population by 2035 will reach around 450 million people and by the year 2060 will reach around 700 million people.

The sale of land by African states to foreign governments will not be implemented in the long run, due to pressing needs for food in these African states. In my judgment, such land agreements will turn into international conflicts that will require new considerations.

What will the impact of this population growth be on water needs? Even if the population growth could be controlled, the demand for water needs will continue to increase, particularly in Egypt. The flow of the Nile River through Egypt will also decrease. Nearly all the Arab states could be classified as water poverty stricken where the majority of the population hardly receives the minimal water requirement, which is 700 cu.met/person/year.

All of these states need to reevaluate their present water and food strategies and plan realistically to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Jun 17, 2011

The Brutality of the Syrian Regime

During the past two weeks, the protestors’ movement in Syria began to gain more momentum than before. The silent majority in Syria began to join the protestors’ movement in large numbers that have exceeded hundreds of thousands of people. The public in general began to overcome their fears and many were even accompanied by their children, joining the protestors in many cities all over Syria.

There are a number of factors that have led to the new changes that have been taking place. First, during the previous three months, President Bashar il-Assad promised the public broad political reforms. Not much of what he promised was implemented, except for the fact that he removed the emergency law officially, but the arrests of protestors is still going on. He also released around 450 political prisoners, but there are many who have been in prison for many years without trial. President Assad has missed the opportunity to initiate broad and genuine political reforms. Secondly, the Syrian population has given up on the possibility of real political reforms. The only way out, from the public’s point of view, is the removal of the entire Assad regime.

Third, the daily killings of protestors, whose deaths have already exceeded 1300, in addition to many injuries, led the public to the conclusion that protesting on a continuous basis is the only solution. The situation led some soldiers to refuse to shoot civilian protestors. Also, some have been shot by their officers for refusing orders. It was also reported that some of the Syrian military officers have refused to shoot at the protestors. Such incidents took place at Jisr al-Shughour where 120 soldiers were killed. The Syrian authority claimed that the soldiers were killed by armed rebels. This situation led the Syrian military command to attack and regain control of Jisr al-Shughour, where heavy military equipment such as tanks and helicopters, were used. It was reported that the attack was led by Commander Mahr il-Assad. He is well known as a brutal and reckless person, who will stop at nothing if the family regime is threatened.

Furthermore, the ruthless military attack led more than 10,000 people to flee Turkey to escape the brutality of the Syrian army. In 1982, his uncle, Rifa’at al Assad, ordered the attack of the city of Hama. It led to the death of more than 20,000 civilians.

It is not difficult to reach the conclusion that if those high government officials surrender their positions, they will be prosecuted for crimes and other acts of corruption committed.

The Tunisian and Egyptian leadership are being prosecuted and this led to a new political trend that awaits all political dictators in the Arab world.

The Yemeni, Libyan and Syrian authoritarian regimes are on their way out, irrespective of the abusive and brutal force that they have been using against their people.

The people in the Arab world are thirsty for democracy and freedom. They want to have the freedom to run their own lives without being fearful of their rulers. As the common proverb says, “Where there is a will, there is a way”.

Jun 15, 2011

The Lebanese Protesters Movement

During the past few months, the young people of Lebanon have been leading a protest movement. The main objective is to change the political system of Lebanon. The political structure is based on sectarian divisions, which were created by the French at the end of their colonialist rule of Lebanon during the later part of the 1940s. It was an arrangement that was referred to at the time as a “gentlemanly agreement”. It specifies that the position of the president of Lebanon will be given to a Christian Maronite, the position of the prime minister will be given to a Muslim Sunni, and the position of the speaker of parliament will be given to a Muslim Shiaa. Such an arrangement did not consider the demographic composition of the Lebanese population, nor did it consider the basic principles of democracy.

For example, each sectarian group was given a certain number of seats in parliament, irrespective of their population size. The history of Western colonialism in the Arab world, both French and British, is negative. Both western powers created negative obstacles in the way of positive development politically, economically and educationally in order to serve their own colonialist strategy.

Nevertheless, the political sectarianism that the French instituted in Lebanon, has contributed to its instability during the past four decades. Political friction and competition was a common phenomenon, which has been part of the daily political events in Lebanon.

During the 1970s, a civil war began among the competing political parties that lasted nearly 10 years and led to the killing of more than 100,000 people in addition to an equal number of injuries.

The civil war caused both physical and human destruction and no political reform. One of the major reasons behind this is also foreign interference from within the region and from outside the region.

The Lebanese political stage even opened the doors for Israel’s invasion, the Syrian military domination as well as the landing of American troops in Lebanon. All of these foreign troops have left Lebanon, but the sectarian political conflict still dominates daily life there. The younger generations of Lebanon have understood the nation’s problems and difficulties much better than their parents and are asking for reforms. They want to abolish political sectarianism and replace it with a secular political system that disregards religious and/or ethnic affiliation, based on the free democratic system. The proposed reforms, if implemented, will minimize different sectarian groups that have been manipulating to continue dominating the political stage in Lebanon. Such a system not only contributes to political and social instabilities, but also to the stagnation of the country as a whole. I hope that the Lebanese younger generation’s protest movement will end up creating more support that will lead to genuine

Jun 14, 2011

The United States and its Veto Power

Recently the German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for reforms of the U.N. that ought to meet the demands of the present world situation. The U.N. rules and regulations were instituted more than six decades ago after World War II. Since then, significant changes have taken place that lead to the rise of some states that carry a heavy weight, such as Brazil, India and Turkey. The Security Council, which consists of 15 members and only five permanent members, carry veto power and should be expanded to reflect the present reality of the world we live in.

However, the German chancellor did not call for the removal of the individual veto power that the 5 permanent members of the Security Council presently enjoy.

Such rules are outdated and in contradiction of the basic principles of democracy that the five permanent members of the Security Council keep talking about.

Let me be more specific to provide the reader with specific examples that led one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the U.S. government, to prevent the important resolutions that the majority of the U.N. Security Council has voted for. These votes were rejected because the U.S. used its veto power and stopped certain resolutions from being implemented.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a classic example of when the U.S. exercised its veto power more than 75 times to stop the implementation of any resolution that would force the Israeli government to stop its aggression against the Palestinians.

The U.S. government has abused its veto power at the Security Council to appease Israel and their American supporters, especially the American Jewish Zionist organizations. The American government’s political behavior at the U.N. Security Council since 1948 (after the creation of Israel) has been a disaster. It contributed to the instability of the Middle East region to appease a small Jewish minority who put the American Congress under their thumb. During the recent visit of the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to the U.S., he was invited to address the American Congress, where he received several standing ovations, which is reflective of the influence of the Jewish Zionist lobby.

For that reason, Israeli politicians have ignored the whole world and continued to implement their Zionist ideology, “Eretez Israel”, which means “greater Israel”.

In 1948, the U.S. government played the major role in the creation of the state of Israel, which allocated 51% of the Palestinian land despite the fact that the majority of the population that was living in that part were Palestinians. Since then the majority in Israel turned into the minority and 51% of its land expanded to become 78% of the original Palestinian land by the eve of the 1967 war. Since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the rest of Palestine, the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has been going on with the approval of the U.S. government. Many resolutions were approved by the majority of members of the U.N. Security Council, but they were rejected through the use of the U.S. veto power.

Recently, the Palestinian authority stated publicly that their case should be taken to the U.N. to ask for the official recognition of a Palestinian state. 119 states have already recognized the Palestinian state. Nevertheless, the U.S. government has already objected to the proposed Palestinian strategy and threatened to use its veto power. Instead, President Obama continued to say that the issue should be discussed by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. The same policy has been advocated by the U.S. government during the past four decades without providing a solution to this conflict.

The simple and most reasonable approach is that since it was the U.N. that created the state of Israel, the same institution should creation a Palestinian stated based on the 1967 borders.

At the same time, the U.N. should initiated new reforms especially illuminating the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council. Also the number of memberships should be expanded and voting should be based on majority rule. This would set a new objective for the implementation of democracy

Jun 11, 2011

The Royalty Club

During the past few weeks, Arab press began to speculate about the Arab Gulf Corporation Council’s invitation to Jordan and Morocco to join their ranks.

One of the main speculations behind this new policy on the part of “GCC” is to strengthen the military capability of the Gulf region. Such a move, if implemented, will provide regional and local stability and minimize the possibilities of local uprising. Also, it will provide more security from any Iranian threats. Furthermore, it will strengthen the royal kingdom’s rules. As it was pointed out by some Gulf political leaders, in light of the spring revolutions that led to the collapses of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes, such a move will prevent the domino theory from happening in the Gulf region.

It seems to me that such a move is an effort to develop a “royal monarchy club” to protect the thrones of absolute authoritarian regimes. In a way, what happened in Bahrain recently, when members of the “GCC” sent security forces, which led to the suppression of the protestors’ movement, is a clear example. Those who led the reforms movement in Bahrain were calling for justice and the implementation of democratic reforms. It happened that the Sunni minority, which constitutes one-third of the total population, is in full political control of parliament and other governmental institutions. For example, the Shiaa segment of the population is given only 18 sects out of 40, despite the fact that they constitute more than two-thirds of the total population.

The main rationale that the Bahraini government used to suppress the protestors reform movements is that they are influenced by the Iranian government. This unjustified political policy that has been going on for many decades in the Arab world between the Muslim Sunni and Muslim Shiaa should come to an end since both religious groups accept the content of the Quran in its totality.

As long as this dogmatic conflict continues in the Arab world, it will be a major obstacle to progress. It is no wonder to see that nearly the whole world is progressing, while the Arab world is regressing.

Nevertheless, the call by the members of GCC for Jordan and Morocco to join and become members of their council, in my judgment, is a positive step. If such a political step will lead to lifting political borders and allow the free movement of workers in search for jobs, it will be a positive political and economic step that will strengthen the region. The Jordanian government has already responded positively to the invitation from GCC.

There are many common characteristics of political, economic and religious traits that Jordan shares with the Gulf region. For example, it was reported that there are already more than ½ a million Jordanian workers in the Gulf region. Furthermore, Jordan is among the leading Arab states in terms of its high literacy rates, college graduates and skilled workers, which provides an important potential for further economic development that will benefit all.

It is no secret that Jordan will benefit from such a move that will provide the opportunity for the development of its human resources and will have a positive impact on the region as a whole.

Discussion is going on, and hopefully it will lead to full membership benefits economically and politically. It should also be pointed out that the Jordanian geographical position, sharing political boundaries with Saudi Arabia, puts it at an advantageous position by comparison to Morocco. Maybe this point made the Moroccan government less enthusiastic to join.

Let me conclude by emphasizing that total unity in the Arab world is more urgent now than ever before. In unity, there is strength politically and economically.